It was thirty one years ago on March 20, 1986 two Naga youth Vikhozo Yhoshü and Kekuojalie Sachü as volunteers of the Naga Students Federation lost their lives as a result of indiscriminate firing by a section of the Nagaland Police on that fateful day. The students under the banner of the NSF had gathered to protest the introduction of the Indian Police Service cadre in to Nagaland and also against the extension of the Disturbed area belt from 5 km to 20 km in the Indo-Burma (now Myanmar) border. Till then Nagaland did not have its own cadre of the IPS and the state only had the state police service now called the Nagaland Police Service.
The long years of conflict in the state had almost nullified all the tribal organisations. Moreover the other middle tier bodies as envisaged in the 16 point agreement like the Regional Councils, Range Councils, Area Councils were either abolished or non functional. The NSF was the only civil society group those days formidable enough to act as a pressure group in the state. The introduction of the IPS cadre meant the coming of police officers from other states to head the top positions in the police department resulting in lesser opportunity for the people of the state. However the increase in police high handedness in a conflict ridden state with non Nagas at the top might also have been one of the fears aggravated by the extension of the disturbed area belt to 20 kms inside the state from the Myanmar border.
The trust that the students had on the ‘locally’ managed state police department was proved wrong then and there when the police started indiscriminate firing after some police officers were stopped by the volunteers. The NSF alleges that the administration also imposed 144 CrPC only after the strike was called and the volunteers were already gathered. As per the account of eye witnesses and also the NSF’s official account the police fired on the fleeing students of which many were minors. Some of the injured were shot again at point blank range and even medical care was not allowed by the police. The incident left 2 dead and almost 50 injured, some seriously. The police nor the administration showed up at the hospital and so even a post mortem was not conducted. The impunity of the armed forces that the Nagas had seen over the years made possible by the declaration of disturbed areas and imposition of laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was instead re-enacted that fateful day by the state police. It is said that the paramilitary present nearby instead stood there helpless when the police fired indiscriminately.
Even after 31 years, the police force in the state especially its actions during conflicts still indicate nothing much has changed. Whether the introduction of the IPS officers who are recruited through the prestigious UPSC to better run the department effectively is still questionable ? How far has the knowledge of the law by our police force that used to learn the Indian Law translated into Nagamese and written in the Roman alphabets have progressed in the state is there for all to judge? How far has the awareness of our police force improved in understanding the rule of law themselves over the years ? How clearly can our police forces differentiate the different rules of engagement, if there are any. The answer surely lie beyond the department and its officers and unless the political will is displayed by the lawmakers then the incident of March 20 1986 will be re-enacted again and again.